Lahra Smith, Ph.D.

Georgetown University

Country: United States (District of Columbia)

About Me:

I am a political scientist studying citizenship, migration and political institutions in Africa, particularly in East Africa and the Horn of Africa. I seek to better understand the dynamic relationships between states and the constellations of citizens, non-citizens and citizens-in-the-making. That takes me from classrooms to refugee camps to government offices throughout the region, and occasionally beyond. I use ethnographic and qualitative methods because I want to understand politics as they are made and deployed by the people who are politicians and the people who use everyday politics to ‘act back.’ I have been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright-Hays, and the US Fulbright Program. 

Research Interests

African Politics


Comparative Democratization

Immigration & Citizenship

Gender and Politics





Countries of Interest





Books Written:

(2013) Making Citizens in Africa: Ethnicity, Gender and National Identity and Ethiopia, Cambridge University Press

Making Citizens in Africa argues that citizenship creation and expansion is a pivotal part of political contestation in Africa today. Citizenship is a powerful analytical tool with which to approach political life in contemporary Africa because the institutional and structural reforms of the past two decades have been inextricably linked with the battle over the "right to have rights." Professor Lahra Smith's work advances the notion of meaningful citizenship, which refers to the way in which rights are exercised, or the effective practice of citizenship. Using data from Ethiopia and developing a historically informed and empirically nuanced study of language policy and ethnicity and gender identities, this book analyzes the contestation over citizenship that engages the state, social movements, and individuals in substantive ways. By combining original data on language policy in contemporary Ethiopia with detailed historical study and an analytical focus on ethnicity, citizenship, and gender, this work not only brings a fresh approach to Ethiopian political development but also to contemporary citizenship concerns relevant to other parts of Africa.

Media Appearances:

Radio Appearances:

(2017) Ufahamu Africa